Report on the Policy Workshop
By Nicola Davidson
The AWRN ‘Bridging the Gap between Animal Welfare Science and Policy’ workshop was funded by Defra, The Scottish Government and The Welsh Government and took place at Mary Sumner House in London. The day began with a selection of viewpoints from policy and science representatives. Marc Casale began by stating DEFRA’s role in animal welfare policy formation. He mentioned the definition of high and low welfare in trade terms, and the implementation of pet licensing reforms as current areas of interest. Andrew Voas then gave us the viewpoint of the Scottish government, which has an emphasis on livestock farming. They currently fund research on both a long-term strategic, and a short-term reactionary basis. Simon Rolfe from the Welsh government considered what policy needs from science, including expertise, evidence, an honest broker and the scientific method as a debate framework. Richard Bennett from the University of Reading considered the challenges for scientists when trying to convert their research into policy. He highlighted a lack of researcher understanding of how policy is made and what policy makers need, as well as communication barriers and conflicting evidence as particularly problematic. He also indicated that most research is not actually policy actionable. Finally, Henry Buller gave us an overview of the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s (FAWC) role in policy development. DEFRA representatives were keen to state that FAWC outputs are highly valued by the government.
Lorna Horton from DEFRA then gave us an excellent overview of the procedure policy makers take to get ideas into policy. She stressed that policy making is a lengthy process and there is high levels of competition for policy to be debated in parliament. She suggested that if you want to be more involved in policy making then you should contact your local MP or another government back bencher and get them to raise the issue with a minister. Another route is to e-mail the select committee involved in policy related to your research. You could also follow DEFRA on twitter and look out for requests for comments on policies that have been sent for public consultation as they are always looking for good quality comments.
The afternoon sessions began with elevator pitches by researchers on research areas that could, or should, be made into policy. A wide diversity of species and commercial sectors was represented in these pitches, with some great findings that could be taken forward into policy. Equids and pest control were areas highlighted as gaps in animal welfare policy.
After the elevator pitches we split into break-out groups for the rest of the afternoon. Each group reported back to all workshop attendees at the end of the workshop. The first group considered how to get policy into your grant impact statement. Here the advice emphasised the need to be specific when writing your impact statement. Provide a Gantt chart of your activities and specify who, when and what for the activity. Make sure you include what difference the activity will make and how it relates to your project specifically. To get an excellent score you need to include end user application in your statement. DEFRA are happy to help with impact statements, but you need to contact them early in the application process.
The second break-out group looked at the role of industry and markets in animal welfare policy, using industry to effect quicker change than policy can. This group found that industry could lead the way in welfare reforms, giving examples such as free-range eggs and RSPCA Freedom Food. However, perception by the public is important as subtle changes can be difficult to grasp and communicate, as has been seen with confusion over labelling. The outcome also greatly depends on the retailer and client base, meaning that market wide change can be more difficult to effect using this route. There is also a risk of invalidated claims of welfare improvement as animal welfare becomes more marketable, particularly with a lack of validated welfare outcome measures.
The third group, looking at animal welfare challenges, also highlighted a lack of outcome measures as being a particular problem. In addition, they emphasised outcome measure collection and which animals are most important as challenging questions.
The fourth group discussed how to get scientific evidence into policy and concluded that you need to be able to liaise effectively with others involved. Communication of research was picked up as an area that could be improved and it was suggested that scientists should provide policy makers with succinct summaries of their research, rather than relying on policy makers to read long journal articles.
The fifth group discussed policy and research funding in the future, with concerns that current government priorities such as sustainable intensification and antimicrobial resistance could remove potential funding for welfare research. The general consensus from this group was that policy makers are not the funders of research and sources of funding other than the traditional research councils should be considered when trying to fund animal welfare research.
The final group discussed the effect of Brexit on animal welfare policy and research funding. The positives included a ban on live imports and the potential to raise standards but there was concern that we could raise welfare standards so high that British consumers were not able to afford animal products, opening the way for cheap, poor welfare imports. There was an emphasis that the value of animal welfare to the UK economy needs to be considered in future animal welfare policy.
During discussion and debate some interesting themes emerged, including a move by government from prescriptive legislation to encouraging industry to take the lead in improving animal welfare and providing assurance. More collaboration was encouraged with industry from the beginning of research projects. In order to get their research into policy, researchers need a greater understanding of the needs of policy makers and they need to be prepared to give concise, accurate summaries of their research without personal opinions. Policy representatives emphasised that policy makers are busy but don’t bite, so contact them about your findings, but make sure you give them a concise summary.
Videos of the presentations at the meeting will be uploaded to the website within the next few weeks.